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18/03/1929: Ivan Sharpe interviews Steve Bloomer
Author: Isaque Argolo | Creation Date: 2022-05-18 17:53:35
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"I FELT LIKE THE KING OF ENGLAND"
OUR GREATEST MATCH-WINNER LASHES MODERN FOOTBALL
Ivan Sharpe | 18/03/1929
Stephen Bloomer, England's greatest match-winner in International Association football, in this Life-Time-in-Football interview, challenges "modern excuses," and says that because of the rush players are losing the art of ball-control. He declares the English International teams of to-day to be three goals inferior to those of the pre-war period.
Bloomer: I was staggered — flabbergasted! I remember thinking, at the time: 'Well! I might be the King of England turning out for a football team.'
» The place was packed; the band was playing about 'Auld Acquaintance' and conquering heroes, the crowd was roaring, and there I was in the middle of the field feeling I couldn't smile and daren't sob, while the match, instead of beginning, for several minutes stood still.
» Then, when we did start, and I got the first goal, it all broke out again!
23 CAPS, 28 GOALS.
This is not a scene from a memorable International or Cup match. The visitors, in fact, were Lincoln City, just a "little" team. It is Stephen Bloomer's story of his homecoming, of how Derby welcomed him back one Saturday afternoon in 1910 when he had been recalled from Middlesbrough to help to lift out the Second Division and back to prominence the club he had done so much to make famous.
"Steve" Bloomer, ye moderns, still ranks as England's greatest match-winner — something of a tyrant afield, but overflowing with good intentions; a man who could save sinking ships by flashing thought and action.
A call for the ball, an instantaneous burst between the backs, a shot on the run, and a brown bullet sped to its billet — that was Bloomer. He was England's saviour in quite a few games. He got 23 caps and 28 goals in those big names — in a day when goals had about twice their present scoring value.
He was a famous figure — one of the most arresting figures of all — in the nineties and the early seasons of the twentieth century, when the game's popularity was being clinched by the feats of players who, it seems, will remain among the greatest of all time. And his greatest moment of all, he says, was in the obscure Second Division game at Derby. Apparently there's no place like home.
AT 7s. 6d. A WEEK
"He's come home" the crowd cried. "Soon we'll be back in the First Division." Quite true. In the following (1910-11) season Bloomer, at the age of 37, and believed to be played out, led Derby County back to the First Division, their old and real place in football, after they had been wandering for five years in the wilderness.
Again he was besieged, with the rest of the players, on the return to Derby after the last League match from which the team emerged as Champions. Bloomer and others were pulled from their conveyances and carried through the town in triumph. Cradley, in Worcestershire, was his birthplace, but Derby, you see, his real home.
He went there when he was five, and while still a youth signed a professional undertaking to play for Derby County — then inspired on the field by versatile John Goodall — for 7s. 6d. a week in the first year, 10s. in the second, and 12s. 6d. in the third. An annual half-crown rise, you will perceive. After his second match, however, his remuneration vaulted up to 30s. a week.
England's greatest match-winner — he "probably gets away with the ball quicker than any other forward" the Athletic News said in 1897 — never earned more than £4 a week, and his two benefits (one in 1898 from a match with the Corinthians, then in their pomp), and another in 1904 — jointly taken with the late Ben Warren brought him a grand total of 325. Yes, Bloomer was born thirty years before his time or, at any rate, before the fifth figure came to football.
I cannot tell a tithe of his story, so there shall be snapshots.
— Your secrets?
Bloomer: My secrets came from the fact that football must have been born in me, although John Goodall was a great tutor, whose advice I always took and always kept in my head. He was like a father to me.
» Where the vision came from I don't know, but when I had the ball I seemed always to know just where the goal was.
» I had an instinct, perhaps, ragarding the exact position of the goal wherever I had wandered, so that I did not need to look up when shooting or steady up in order to take aim.
Of course, practice had something to do with it. We used to practise properly — running down the field in line and passing and shooting while on the move. This used to go on month after month. This used to go on month after month. These things are not done now, I believe.
It is all nonsense to say a man should not practise with the ball. There is not enough of it. Men will never master the ball until they do practise properly, and that is one of principal troubles to-day.
A SHOOTING MYSTERY
— Greatest partner?
Bloomer: My greatest partner in International football was William I. Bassett, of West Bromwich Albion, because our play fitted so well, but it was the through, forward-passes of John Goodall, my best club partner, that helped to create my gift for scoring.
» I was always on the look-out for a chance to dash through and shoot, or to shoot without any preliminaries. This thought never left me during any match. I kept constantly in my mind, and wherever I was, the possibility of snatching a goal. I deliberately hid my intentions, but was continuously scheming for a dash or shot for goal.
» Where the power of my shooting came from I don't know, except that practice was the chief explanation. Come to think of it, this was rather wonderful. I was called "the pale-face," and I never had much physique. The suddenness as well as accuracy and power of my shooting, I suppose, got me many goals, and the secret, if any, was found at practice.
» From constant shooting I got the knack of "hitting" — hard, that means — a still or moving ball.
Bloomer: My talking? Yes, I talked on the field. Some say I overdid it. Very likely. I was lost in the game. Some say I "did not suffer fools gladly." Maybe. But I have made a few men play.
— Your greatest team?
Bloomer: My greatest team? The finest of my experience was England's eleven of 1898. We beat Scotland by 3—1 at Celtic Park, Glasgow. It was:
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» A good team? Why, John Goodall and James Crabtree were there as our reserves, and they have often been singled out as two of the game's six best players!
» It was the best of my experience — and I am still following football — because almost every man was in his prime. The team played as if its members had been appearing together for years.
» Scotland's team of that match was the best set of Scots I ever saw. It included:
J. W. Robinson, (New Brighton Tower; W. J. Oakley (Corinthians), W. Williams (West Bromwich Albion); Frank Forman
(Nottingham Forest), Wreford Brown (Corinthians), E. Needham (Sheffield United); W. C. Athersmith (Aston Villa), S. Bloomer (Derby County), G. O. Smith
(Corinthians), F. Wheldon (Aston Villa), F. Spiksley
» In order to give you a clear view of the merits of this team I want to say this:
» I saw what John Goodall said in the Athletic News recently about the Preston North End of old being able to give modern English League team six goals start and a beating.
» This England eleven of 1898 would beat our best International eleven of to-day comfortably — by three goals — and do it ninety times in a hundred.
» It was an exceptional side. But the average English International eleven of my day would beat any English International team fielded since the war nine times in ten. No, I am not lost in the past. These are simple facts, and I am in close touch with present-day football.
— Why is football less clever?
Bloomer: Because men do not hold the ball. They rush about too much. The W formation, with two forwards falling back, is folly. To-day, forwards have more chance to settle on the ball and hold it, because of the new off-side law, but they are not using it. There is too much hasty and nervy football. Players are losing the art of ball control.
— Defensive play is stronger?
» I do not agree with the excuse that half-back play is more destructive and difficult to defeat.
» The fact is, the dominating and bad-to-beat half-backs of my day — men like Alec Raisbeck, Chas. Thomson, Ben Warren, James Crabtree, Jas. Hay. Ernest Needham, Chas. Roberts, Peter McWilliam — are now less common.
» Take centre half-back: there are fewer really dominating players, beecause the new off-side law has helped to take away some of their power.
— Your greatest match?
Bloomer: My greatest match, I think, was played in the F.A. Cup Competition for the Derby County were thought to be in for sure defeat, but were leading at half-time by four goals. Yes, I got a couple.
» James Cowan, the Villa's splendid centre half-back of that time — he had won the Powderhall Handicap at Edinburgh the same year — was moved from the centre to the left half-back position in order to mark John Goodall and myself. We played to plan, and at the close Cowan said: This is the first time I've played left half-back and it will be the last." I believe it was.
» The Villa backs of that year — the club won the League and in the following season carried off the Cup and the League — were Crabtree and Howard Spencer, two of the best I ever saw and two of the fairest.
FINALS FROM BEHIND THE SCENES
— Your most disappointing match?
Bloomer: My most disappointing match was the Cup Final of 1898. I have played in two Finals and been beaten in both. This was the first.
» Derby had just beaten Nottingham Forest 5—0 at Derby, but when we met again at the Crystal Palace things went wrong and we were defeated by 3—1.
» This reason may seem strange, but I attributed the defeat to the fact that a Derby player with a famous name had obtained a number of tickets and was selling them outside the dressing-room until ten minutes before the start. Then he came in hurriedly and dressed. We were hot and bothered about it, and never settled down. Little things alter big events.
» A year later we were in the Final again, and this time were leading by a goal until twenty minutes from the end. Then John May had to be carried off, injured. We asked the captain to play the one-back game, but he preferred to have two backs and four forwards, and Sheffield United promptly "ran us off our legs." We lost by 4—1.
» In 1903 Derby's Cup Final misfortunes still clung to them. The goalkeeper (Fryer) broke down and they were beaten by Bury by the record score of six goals. I was injured and unable to play. So you see I never got a Cup winner's medal.
Kenneth Anderson (Queen's Park); J. Drummond (Rangers), D. Doyle (Celtic); N. Gibson (Rangers), J. Cowan (Aston Villa), J. Robertson (Everton); J. Bell (Everton), J. Campbell
(Celtic), W. S. Maxwell (Stoke), J. Miller (Rangers), and Alex Smith